Few boats offer the versatility of an open bow skiff. With that in mind we hope more anglers will consider working a fly rod off the front this spring. In an effort to boost interest in one of the most exciting fisheries the Northeastern U.S. has to offer, we are dedicating this month’s Ask a Pro to targeting spring striped bass and bluefish on fly gear. We are pleased to have two top-tier fly guides on board for this series as well as continuing our commitment to provide a young, up-and-coming angler with an opportunity for increased exposure. If you don’t own a fly rod we hope this installment motivates you to get in the game. If you are a casual saltwater fly fisherman, we think this edition will help improve your game. And if you are a seasoned pro, we hope you enjoy the read and welcome any feedback via email. Fish the Front!!!!
- What is your personal “goto” fly outfit for Northeast spring bass and bluefish depending on conditions and size of fish being targeted?
- What is your “goto” line/leader for this fishery and why?
- What are some of your favorite and most productive flies for this fishery and why?
- For the true newcomer that wants to grab a fly outfit and get into this exciting game, can you suggest one or two good options along with a LOCAL business or two nearby where they could purchase gear, ask questions, and possibly get some instruction?
- Can you offer any particular signs you look for on the front of a skiff with a fly rod in your hand that may differ from an approach with a spinning rod? Feel free to use this space to discuss currents, winds, bottom contour, positioning the skiff, and more.
- Building off #5 above what types of techniques/patterns on working the fly have seemed to entice the most consistent strikes for you? Feel free to use this space to discuss different scenarios.
- Any last tips you can offer to both true beginners and/or novices that we may have missed that will help them get more bites?
Captain Jim Freda – Shore Catch Guides – Manasquan, New Jersey
Captain Freda has been fishing the inshore and offshore waters of New Jersey for 38 years targeting striped bass, bluefish, false albacore, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, and mahi mahi. He is on the National Pro Staff for St. Croix Rods, Spro, Gamakatsu, Avet, Korkers, Aqua Skins, Tony Maja, and Hogy Lures. Capt. Freda writes for Saltwater Sportsman, Fly Fisherman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Fishing Journal, The Fisherman Magazine, On the Water Magazine and StriperSurf.com
Captain Jason Dapra – Blitz Bound Guide Service – Lincroft, New Jersey
Captain Dapra has been running Blitz Bound Charters for the last 17 years. He runs his 23’ Jones Brothers out of Atlantic Highlands, NJ in the spring and early summer then moves to Montauk, NY in the fall (back to NJ for late fall). He also runs guided fly fishing trips for trout on the upper Delaware River System in the spring (drift boat float trips). Last spring (2017), Captain Jason’s clients had 14 fish over 40lbs on the fly… and 2 fish over 50lbs on the fly! Captain Jason is on the Scott, Hatch, Jones Brothers and Hyde Boats Pro Staffs.
Jake Kozmor – Owner, NJ on the Fly Media
At just 16 Jake has worked hard at establishing himself as an up-and-coming young fly fisherman. He first picked up a fly rod at age 11 and has been dedicated to developing a solid striped bass, bluefish and false albacore saltwater game ever since. Jake is a six time award-winning videographer and photographer through NJ on the Fly Media. He is currently working towards a career in video production. We wish him much success and are happy to have him contribute his perspective here at OpenBow.
Captain Jim Freda
- For backbay waters my goto outfit is a fast action St Croix Legend Elite 9 foot 4 piece 9 weight rod ESW909.4. Along the oceanfront my go to outfit is a fast action St Croix Legend Elite 9 foot 4 piece 10 weight rod ESW9010.4. Both are spooled with a Jack Charlton Mako 9500 reel.
- For fishing in the back bay I will use a cold water intermediate striper line like the Rio In Touch Striper. My leader is a 8 foot long straight shot of 15-20 lb fluorocarbon loop to loop to the welded loop of the fly line. For the ocean I will use a 350 grain sinking line like the RIO’s Density Compensation. My leader is a 6 foot long straight shot of 20-30 lb fluorocarbon loop to loop to the welded loop of the fly line.
- When the predominant baits are small such as spearing, anchovies, or sandeels then fly patterns in the 3-6 inch range will fit the bill. Your arsenal should include Popovics’ jiggies, surf candies, deep candies, and simpleclones. Also Skok’s whitebait mushy, Farrar’s softex patterns, clousers, half and halfs, deceivers, and bunny flies. To imitate the larger baits such as the anadromous alewife and blueback herring and adult bunker you will want to use larger bulkier flies. These flies will range in size from 6-12 inches but it is not uncommon for us to throw synthetic flies as long as 14 inches. For herring or bunker imitations you should carry and throw large Popovics’ bucktail deceivers and hollow fleyes. These are my first choice as these fleyes are easy to cast and present a wide and long profile in the water. Big synthetic bunker flies such as Popovics’ beast fleye will also work such as will Skok’s mega mushy or Dino’s Herring fly. Big Lefty’s deceivers, half and halfs, and Farrar’s bunker work well too.
- Since there are no fly shops in my area I recommend to get started for any new season make sure you attend the Fly Fishing Show at Raritan Center, Edison, NJ at the end of January as this is the world’s largest fly fishing show with all the best pros at the show. You also have a multitude of vendors to check out all the equipment. I recommend using a St Croix 9/10 weight rod. Check out all the models at http://stcroixrods.com/products/fly-fishing/
- When casting from the bow of your boat try to approach your target so that the wind will cross your body from left to right if you cast with your right hand and vice versa. This will help to load your rod at a 3/4 angle as it lays out over the water.
- When choosing an appropriate fly to cast at a prey ask what characteristics are most important color, profile, or retrieve? The selected characteristic that is first on my list would be the retrieve. You can live by the old freshwater saying, “match the hatch”, and “you won’t have a problem” but you will need to remember in most instances even the best matched imitation is not going to take fish if the presentation isn’t correct. Secondly, I would concentrate on matching the profile of your fly before its color. The majority of the saltwater fish that are caught by the inshore fly have the ability to see colors. They do not, however, recognize colors with the same perception that we are accustomed to. This is due to differences in the anatomical makeup of the eye. Most inshore species have a keen ability to detect movement and the ability to discriminate objects against specific backgrounds rather than to perceive precise details and specific colors. A bait’s profile is three dimensional. It has length, width (or girth), and height. Since colors can be masked with respect to different conditions, form and movement of the fly will be the key stimuli to trigger a strike. In many situations the correct profile will be enough of a stimulus to trigger a response in spite of the flies color. Finally, color would be the third thing I look at when choosing a fly.
- See above.
Captain Jason Dapra
- 10 weight! For the most part, we are throwing larger flies and often times we are dealing with less than perfect conditions. Yes, a good angler can catch a 25lb striper or a 15lb blue on a 7, 8 or 9 weight fly rod, but all in all a 10 weight makes it easier to present the fly and fight the fish. With the technology put into today’s sticks, a 10 weight is pretty darn light anyway… and I know all of my clients are expert casters and like a really fast action rod. Fact is, when trying to get line out quickly (i.e. less back casts), I prefer a slower rod (not actually soft though). It all goes down quick on the bow of the boat when that first big fish slams the teaser plug – I don’t want my guy worried about perfect timing on his cast… I want him to concentrate on where he needs to get the bug and how it will need to move – feeling the rod bend on the cast will help! My boat is always loaded with several Scott 10 wt “Tidal” rods and Hatch 7+ reels!
- I do several different types of fishing, so one line won’t cover every situation. However, if we throw-out black line (sinking) from this discussion, I will tell you that I can get by on all surface and near surface presentations with a Cortland “Blitz Series” line… My rep gave me a few last year as I wasn’t tied to any line manufacturer. These lines are lights out good. Loads rods very well, but not too heavy that it collapses when you try to carry line on backcast. Further, the running line is NOT too thin, so there is less of a chance for it to tangle. Good stuff! As far as leaders, STRAIGHT FLOURO!!! No reason at all for a tapered leader in NE saltwater. I may go a 2’ section of 30lb to a 3’ section of 20lb tippet, but that’s about as “techy” as I am going to get. Trust me – these fish that are blowing up baits aren’t stopping to look at your leader configuration. Keep it short and manageable and you’ll catch more fish… mostly because you will be presenting better – short, stiff leader that will unfurl way easier than a 8’ tapered leader.
- Tons of great bugs out there. Bob Pops has been such an innovator making flies with great silhouettes that cast well. He really digs the bucktail and makes the most beautiful bugs you will ever see. I am fortunate to have some of his Hollow Flies tied by Jason Taylor and Scott Stryker. However, when I have to bang out flies for a week of trips, I am probably going to mass produce baitfish flies made of synthetics. Hi–tie sparse baitfish patterns up to 10” work for me. I make these with yak or dolls hair. Heck, I will make them with just about any long, fine synthetic that remains somewhat stiff and sheds water. They seem to stand up to bluefish invasions better than bucktail. Long and short – flies that match the baitfish size, tied sparse and cast/shed water easily are what works.
- I would like to say just charter me and I will teach you, but who am I kidding? A rocking boat with wind blowing and fish going is NOT the place to learn the basics. Any shop will have lessons in the spring. Typically start in a classroom environment and then take it outside for casting and possibly even some water practice (fishing not catching). I will say this, fly fishing is about feel and you aren’t going to get the feel of a fly rod until you spend a LOT of time with it. The cast has to become second nature to you and that doesn’t happen overnight. It happens by standing in the yard and continuously casting line back and forth… Get to know what it feels like to load the road… Learn how to accelerate the rod to a stop to complete the cast. When it’s time to deal with actual fishing conditions, you will be glad you did.
- Some dudes just won’t use a spinning rod anymore after they learn to fly cast. Very noble and pure I guess, but honestly, there is a time and place for everything. If its blowing a gale and fish aren’t lit-up (or if we are searching), I will often beg my clients to throw a spinning rod – damnit, it’s fun catching fish! But when we have conditions, the fly is the ONLY way to go. I spend most of my trips in spring/early summer looking for large striped bass (like 50lb large) and we want them on fly. My guys understand that this is not a quantity game, more of a quality one. If fish are up and we are chasing, you need to remember a few things when operating boat:
- If there is wind, do NOT position the caster so wind is at their back… most likely the boat will be pushed the same way as the cast, so the fly isn’t going to move when they strip – if the bug doesn’t move, the fish isn’t going to eat it
- Cover water! There is NOT a lot of fish/bait holding structure in my area, so we have to move to find the active schools- sometimes 100 miles in a day (in a 20 mile area)… lots of back and forth trying to find the right one!
- I’ll stick to the open water stuff as bay and structure fishing is another thing entirely… You got to make a big fish eat a bunch of feathers – not easy… There typically will be thousands of pieces of real bait around, so how why would these stripers get excited about your bug? TEASE these fish up!!! Get them pissed and they will eat. I use a big, 10” long “walk the dog” type hookless plug to tease fish. They have a difficult time saying no to these. Once the fish are on it, put the fly in the general vicinity and strip like hell – amazing how the striper will peel off the plug (when I stop it) then hit the fly.
- I haven’t even scratched the surface on fly fishing the salt. There are so many scenarios, techniques and facets to fly fishing. With that said, they are all pretty damn fun. Once you become a competent caster, you will figure out the best presentations that work for you. Skill with a fly rod and persistence will regularly catch you fish. Thinking “outside the box” and being “fishy” help a lot. We have such good gear and boats and electronics – the playing field is in our favor, but you still have to work.
- My “goto” fly outfit for spring bass and bluefish is a Sage RPLXi 11 weight and a 3-TAND reel. I use the 11 weight because I can cast it in any condition and I feel comfortable fighting a big fish on it, especially the big bluefish that are around in the spring. You can use a rod between an 8 weight to an 11 weight. A 9 weight is perfect for back bay fishing while a 10 weight is perfect for out front. I would recommend an 11 weight, but they are extremely difficult to find lines for. For the reel, I just recommend anything that is sealed. It is important for it to be sealed so salt and sand don’t get into the reel and corrode the internals.
- My “goto” fly line varies on where I am fishing and what I am targeting. For the back bay, I use Titan Taper WF-11-F. It has a short taper, so it casts very well in windy conditions. If I am fishing the ocean, I use Orvis 450 grain depth charge or InTouch Outbound Short Intermediate 11 weight.
- My favorite flies are Bob Pop’s Hollow Fleyes, Bob’s Banger, deceivers, flatwings, and surf candies. I use Hollow Fleyes for almost everything. Unlike other flies, they have a profile and movement of a baitfish without compromising casting ability. They shed water easily and you can tie them from 4-5 inches all the way up to 14 inches. You can match almost every size of baitfish with that single fly. The Bob’s Banger is a fun fly to fish for bluefish. They are easy to make. A downside to them is that they are hard to cast (note: they cast like a dream on an 11 weight). Deceivers and flatwings are good flies for the smaller bunker. I would fish them when there are a lot of bluefish around because they take less time to tie than a hollow. Surf candies are good for bluefish too because you can catch multiple fish on one fly. They also match the smaller types of bait.
- Two local businesses I shop in southern New Jersey are Orvis Marlton and TackleDirect. Orvis has free fly tying and casting classes. Orvis’ fly tying classes range from beginners to advanced. They are a great social session as well as a learning session. At the casting classes, you can learn how to cast or perfect it. The only downside is they only sell Orvis products. TackleDirect has a wider variety of products, but they don’t offer the unique classes Orvis has. Each store is great and I highly recommend both.
- When I am back bay fishing, I look for three things when I am on the front of the skiff: current, bait, and depth. If you have all three the fish will be there. Current can be formed by the winds or the tides. Creek’s mouths are good areas to find all three. When the spot is found you must position the boat so the wind is going from left to right (if you are a right-handed caster), right to left (if you are a left-handed caster), or back to front (but this is dependent on current because a boat working toward the fly downwind as the angler strips isn’t ideal). Ideally, you want the the line pushing away from you and the boat. Or, in other words, you want the fly to drift either from the left, right, or away – you don’t want the fly coming towards you.
- I never have a set pattern when I’m stripping/working the fly. I try all different retrieve speeds. Some days the bass want a slow speed and some days they want a fast one.
- Another tip that will help when fishing off a skiff, not necessarily get more bites, is to have a stripping basket or bucket for your fly line. If the fly line CAN get caught on something on deck – it WILL! I’ve learned the hard way losing nice false albacore because my line tangled. My final tip is to strip set for all saltwater fish. If you trout set, you just pulled the hook out.
Editor’s Note: The purpose of “Ask a Pro” is not to confuse but to provide legitimate opinions from a variety of professionals that test their equipment and techniques on a regular basis. While there may be quite a lot of information to filter through – remember – this is not a “forum” with “armchair fishermen” commenting on the latest and greatest gear. We want you to TRUST our information!!! As a result, our mission is to be professional angler driven and provide you with the best information possible. We are confident that any of the gear or techniques discussed in our “Ask a Pro” series will increase success the next time you fish. Fish the Front!!!